When last we at SB Nation checked in with the Underdogs Poll, the American Athletic Conference was having a moment. Three teams in the top five hailed from the AAC, including the Houston Cougars, and Tom Herman's team was a few weeks away from laying waste to the Florida State Seminoles in the Peach Bowl.
Nearly nine months later, a lot has changed except this: The #HTownTakeover is complete, but the Cougars will have their work cut out from them from the opening kickoff.
Last year's postseason number one is this preseason's number one, as voted on by our panel of writers and editors from SBN's selection of Group of Five blogs:
|3||San Diego State (1)||64||8|
|Others receiving votes: Northern Illinois (8), Middle Tennnessee State (4), Connecticut (1)|
Not only are the Cougars the dominant team, but when we polled our voters on their pick for preseason Underdogs Poll player of the year, the overwhelming choice was Houston's dynamic quarterback, senior Greg Ward Jr. It's not hard to see why, either, after a 2015 campaign in which he threw for 2,828 yards and 17 touchdowns and ran for 1,108 yards and 21 scores.
Their marquee matchup with Oklahoma (in Houston) on Saturday, September 3 should be one of the defining games of the entire season: It could put the Cougars firmly in the conversation for a Playoff berth down the road, or it could open the door for their primary challengers from the Mountain West.
Boise State had a down year by their standards but return their dynamic sophomore quarterback, Brett Rypien, and his primary offensive weapons: running back Jeremy McNichols and wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck. San Diego State, meanwhile, returns many key pieces to what should be the Group of Five's best defense, most notably cornerback Damontae Kazee and linebacker Calvin Munson. The questions for those teams revolve around whether their defense and offense, respectively, can keep up with established strengths.
Elsewhere, it's a little surprising to see Bowling Green leave the list entirely after breaking through to win 10 games and the MAC title last season. They did lose head coach Dino Babers and star quarterback Matt Johnson, but figure to once again feature one of the most explosive offenses in their conference. The Arkansas State Red Wolves, Sun Belt champions in 2015, also didn't make our initial top 15.
Top Underdogs Games of Week 1 (all times PT)
Oklahoma vs. Houston, 9:00 AM, September 3 (ABC/WatchESPN) - I mean, this is the obvious number one choice, isn't it? The Sooners are a top-five team nationally, while the Cougars are easily the highest ranked Underdog.
Toledo vs. Arkansas State, 6:00 PM, September 2 (ESPNU) - The Rockets were America's darlings for a while until they stumbled late in the year, foiled again by Northern Illinois in the MAC West division, but replacing head coach Matt Campbell (gone to Iowa State) and quarterback Phillip Ely with Jason Candle (last year's offensive coordinator) and Logan Woodside (the starter in 2014) isn't all bad.
Meanwhile, Blake Andersen's Red Wolves surprised many with a convincing November win at Appalachian State that helped them toward the Sun Belt title. They'll be replacing Fredi Knighten at QB, but seven starters return from a defense that forced 34 turnovers last year.
Appalachian State vs. Tennessee, 4:30 PM, September 1 (SEC Network) - There's been consternation in some circles about the Volunteers' high ranking, and there's no doubt they'll be tested right away by the Mountaineers, who've been known to topple heavy favorites from time to time. The defense is likely to key any upset bid, headlined by linebackers John Law and Eric Boggs, but don't sleep on junior quarterback Taylor Lamb: He led the SBC in passing touchdowns (31) and passer rating (160.71), and was second in yards per attempt.